The Non-Mat Leave, Mat Leave
Two months ago, I had my second child. I have a five year old boy and now a baby girl. I decided not to take a maternity leave this time around, although I did reduce my annual targets slightly. I think there are more and more professional women who are choosing to return to work immediately on giving birth for various reasons, provided they can, of course. It goes without saying (yet it must be said!), that this decision is not one that all women can, want to or should make. Many professional women have no choice but to take a maternity leave, or really want to take one – I certainly did the first time I became a mother. It is also worth mentioning, that the immediate return to work is often not a choice for women but a decision made out of necessity. No matter what your circumstance, there is no right or wrong way to navigate this time in our lives and each of us has the right to do what works for us, without judgment.
For those who choose to return to work right away, these are some tips and tricks that worked for me. None of them are, frankly, earth shattering, but I thought I would share my experience in hopes it will help normalize a woman’s decision to not be the immediate, full time and primary caregiver, requiring a typical maternity leave, if that is not what the said woman wants.
First, before my daughter arrived, I made sure that I had an excellent office set up at home. Ironically, the pandemic made it a lot easier to do this, since most lawyers in my office, including myself, were already quite used to working remotely. Prior to the baby’s arrival, I ironed out the few remaining remote working issues I had (bad printer be gone), and procured enough yellow highlighters to last me until 2030 (I made many a trip to our Central Services department, in the evenings, to hoard office supplies). My amazing assistant ensured that anything that came for me in hard copy was couriered to my home, along with anything else that I might need from the office. She was (and still is) my office lifeline.
Second (and this I started doing the moment I realized I was pregnant), I ensured that all of the most difficult tasks on my various files were handled prior to the baby’s arrival. I made a list of baby friendly tasks, which I would leave, if possible, for after her arrival. Any discoveries and hearings that could be scheduled and completed, before I gave birth, were. I spent a lot of time planning the pre and post baby tasks. The final major thing I did prior to the arrival of the baby was a hearing in the Court of Appeal the week before. It was incredibly rewarding to have this behind me, and to await her arrival with a to do list comprising of document reviews and opinions – nothing but the regular humming of my litigation files. This ensured that when I came back from the hospital and sat down at my computer again, I was not overwhelmed – the tasks that awaited me were manageable.
Third, I ensured my support system was rock solid. My husband decided to take time off to take care of the kids. He took on the nightly feedings, so that I could sleep through the night and work the next day. He also took on the drop offs and pick-ups from school of our older child. My mother in law would help in the mornings if my husband needed a break. There is absolutely no way that I could have returned to work without this system in place.
Fourth, I decided to squash any feelings of guilt or doubt that would creep up every now and then. If I felt badly about being on a call while the baby was crying next door, I would have a little chat with myself. I would quite literally tell myself that my daughter was being well taken care of, and that I was spending good, quality time with her when I was not working.
Fifth, I let go of the notion that my days would hardly ever be optimally productive in the parenting or the working department. I allow myself to have those inefficient days without self-flagellating. You know, the days you manage to do nothing on your files, but have also not changed a single diaper. I reject the idea that busy lawyers with young families are not entitled to a Netflix marathon or a few hours of online shopping every now and then. I honestly think this attitude was essential to my ability to return to work without burn out and generally losing my mind.
Finally, I knew my decision would raise eyebrows, and I tried to prepare for it. Many people do not like the choice I have made. I do not know why that is, but I know it to be true. I have been asked: “What are you trying to prove?” and “Don’t you miss your baby”. The honest answers are “nothing” and “no”. I have had acquaintances tell me I will never get this time back and that work would always be there. I am certain new dads do not get these types of comments. Weirdly, making others feels comfortable with my decision sometimes feels like the most difficult part. My hope, in writing this, is that that will not be the case for my daughter, should she make the same choice one day.